Transcript of the 2005 Harvard Law Seminar on Race and Justice, part 3. MARTHA COAKLEY
Before I start, here is some background on Martha Coakley, the third guest speaker at this seminar: at the time of this seminar, she was the District Attorney of Middlesex County in Massachusetts. Her legal record has a checkered past due to her involvement in the cases of – you guessed it! – child molestation! Here are a few prominent examples:
1. Fells Acres Day Care Center preschool trial: In the 1980s, Violet Amirault and her children, Gerald Amirault and Cheryl Amirault LeFave, were convicted of sexually abusing several children at their day care facility. (Kinda reminds you already of the McMartin Preschool case, huh?) These cases came at the height of the 1980s sex abuse panic, leading to false convictions across the country based on improper questioning of children, mass hysteria about sex abuse and Satan worship, and bogus “recovered-memory” psychotherapy (similar to what so-called “Dr.” Carole Lieberman used on Daniel Kapon). Coakley didn’t prosecute the Amiraults; her former boss did. But the case against the family began to come apart during her tenure as district attorney. Despite a parole board’s 5-0 recommendation to grant Gerald Amirault clemency and mounting doubts about the evidence against him, Coakley publicly and aggressively lobbied the then-govorner to deny Amirault relief, and he remained in prison. (Violet and Cheryl were released from prison in 1999, while Gerald was finally released in 2004.)
Coakley fought to keep an innocent man in prison for her own political purposes! I’m surprised that Sneddon didn’t recruit her to join his team! This is conduct that I alluded to in this post; the fact that District Attorneys occupy two of the three sleaziest jobs at the same time! (They are both a lawyer and a politician, and they often prosecute high-profile cases for publicity! The third sleaziest job is used car salesman.) For more info on this case, watch the video below:
2. Rev. John Geoghan sexual abuse case: In 1995, Coakley made a deal with Rev. Geoghan, a Catholic priest who was accused of sexual abuse by three young brothers. Rather than prosecute, Coakley agreed to grant Geoghan a year of probation in a closed-door proceeding that received no media attention at all. Because of the deal, Geoghan faced no formal charges and no criminal record. In sanctioning the 1995 probation agreement, Coakley never pressed the Boston Archdiocese for any prior complaints against Geoghan. It’s not clear that the archdiocese would have readily obliged, but it was holding in its files thousands of pages of documents detailing abuse complaints against Geoghan made by dozens of victims dating back to the 1960s. Unfortunately, Geoghan continued to molest children (because that is what molesters do! They don’t have a one child every ten year average!), and in 2002 he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
I wanted to point out those dark areas in Coakley’s background because, judging from her excellent performance in this seminar, you would think she’s a perfect angel, but that’s totally false!
Charles Ogletree: Thank you Dan. The final presentation, before we start taking questions, comes from Martha Coakley, who not only gives – let me also say this so that it’s clear. I did invite the prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case twice (his emphasis!), and both times they refused. The second time they adamantly (his emphasis!) refused to come and be on the panel with Tom Mesereau. And we also invited Judge Melville, who thought about it, and very much was interested in coming, but decided that because there’s still some remaining legal issues in the case, that he would not come in, but maybe come in later.
Martha Coakley, who has other side, and many of the students here, and those practicing also, will be prosecutors, and here’s where race and justice also intertwine. Here is a very impressionable and compelling white defendant. A foreign defendant. And where the community, and the press loved Louise Woodward! And it wasn’t that “she didn’t do it”, it was the view that “she couldn’t have done it! Look at her!” And what challenges that plays for prosecutors to try your present their evidence when the defendant in this case looks like everyone’s daughter, or granddaughter, and where, in this case, while people were looking at Louise Woodward, Martha Coakley was looking at the forensic evidence, trying to prove that she did do it, even if you didn’t believe that she couldn’t have done it. And to share some reflections on that case, and on race and injustice, an in dealing with the media, please welcome Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.
Martha Coakley: Thank you professor. And I’m going to be really quick because I’m sort of the country cousin here, and I want to leave time for questions for our visiting celebrities. A couple of things just about media, and then about race. I grew up on a lot of Perry Mason, and I have to tell you that it’s one of the reasons that I became a trial lawyer and a prosecutor. We needed better prosecutors after Hamilton Berger lost all of those cases. I also had the opportunity, in the summer that I was sitting for the bar, to watch Ted Bundy defend himself in Florida, and I was fascinated. I was totally hooked on Court TV. That was Court TV in the “good old days”, before all the talking heads came in, and you got mostly uncensored, real trial testimony, and it was fascinating to watch. However, I will say this: as someone who’s tried a lot of cases in Massachusetts, with television cameras in the courtroom – and Massachusetts followed Florida in allowing TVs in, and that’s why you see a lot of cases – my observations are: if you are a really good trial lawyer, you forget about that. You want to make sure your jury pool has not been infected by the media, but after that you focus on what’s going on in the courtroom, and you don’t pay attention to what Dan Abrams is saying about your case, or anybody else, because it doesn’t matter. Particularly true in the Woodward case, and I often – there’s a great documentary about folks who have odd occupations. One of the guys who was interviewed for this documentary was a lion tamer, and when asked about the 50,000 people in the stands when he got in with his chair, he said “You know what? I only think about the lion.” And that’s exactly what a good trial lawyer does, and I’m sure that Tom would agree. When you’re in the courtroom, the lion is the judge, and the lion is the jury. You don’t worry about the other stuff because what those twelve people are thinking is what matters. And that generally proves be true. Jurors generally look at evidence, they do look at what they hear, and they try to be fair. And we’ve lost cases and we’ve won cases, and I can’t think of too many that we’ve won and we shouldn’t have, and I think of some that we lost and I know why we did. And I actually do have a lot of confidence in what juries do. They’re not perfect, they’re not 100%, but they basically do a pretty good job most of the time. In that particular case, in the Woodward case, not only was the issue of “Could this 18-year old possibly have done it?”, but don’t forget, part of the “Dream Team” from OJ Simpson had come to Massachusetts, Barry Sheck came on board, he had just gotten that big acquittal, and his biggest concern was whether jurors would hold it against him somehow in Massachusetts, and he was quite disappointed to learn that a lot of people didn’t really know who he was! But he did a fabulous job in that case, and I said to him “Barry, you just don’t understand the medical evidence. You don’t understand the forensics.” Because he’s a brilliant lawyer, he’s done tremendous work around DNA, a he’s done lot for people who have been wrongly convicted, we’ve worked with him on a lot of those cases in Massachusetts, and I have a lot of respect for him. I think of him as a friend and a colleague, but he had not done a child abuse case, and the simple fact was that whether it was Louise Woodward, or anybody else, the jurors said “We looked at the medical testimony. The baby had a cracked skull, severe bleeding, retinal hemorrhaging, and a constellation of injuries that could only have been cause by intentional, inflicted injury.” The jurors listened to that. I’m not sure that Judge Zobel did, he was busy writing up on the desk while the experts were testifying, and the jurors – I think we had a chance to meet with them afterwards – said they listened to the medical testimonies. So that was comforting to hear that.
A couple of comments on race: Now, I talk a lot about high-profile cases because we’ve had so many of them. And I note with some irony that it was only after what I call the couple of summers of “young, blonde girls” who were abducted, many were found murdered, some in California, some in Massachusetts, that we have a national push for the Amber Alert. Sounds like a great idea, right? Let’s make sure that we respond when that happens. But my point is this: most child abuse occurs from people they know in the homes they live in. Friends, family. It’s not – it’s obviously horrible when somebody is abducted by a stranger. But it’s also true that it was those cute, white blond girls that got everybody’s attention. And there are children all over this country who are abducted by strangers, or mistreated by their parents, family, or friends, who don’t have the cute faces or the blonde curls to get attention. So we spend a lot of money on a system because that’s what people want to see, and that’s unfortunate.
Let me make a second point. We are still investigating what we believe to be a murder case in this county, when there were three young women who had disappeared, and whose bodies were found –now skeletons – the Hudson and the Malboro, in our county. Denelea torres, Carmen Rudy, and Betsy Montalvo, had disappeared off the streets of Schuster. They were substance abusers, and many of them had turned to the streets to support themselves, and in one case, a family didn’t even know they were missing. And as horrified as I am by those women’s deaths, I’m more horrified by their lives because they fell off track. People didn’t know where they were, they were missing, and we have victims like that all over this country every single day, and they don’t get a fair shake, sometimes when they’re alive, and sometimes when they’re murdered.
And the third thing I want to raise is really to respond to Tom’s point, and it raises ethical issues, I think. Defendants who feel a jury will be prejudiced against them because of race, or ethnic, or some other reason, have that opportunity to play the race card. Well, what happens when the defendant decides he’s going to play the race card against the victim? Different story, isn’t it? Case on appeal, right out of this district. A Harvard graduate student – a white graduate student – who, he claims, was attacked by a young Hispanic man while he was walking home one night from a local watering hole. All the race cards were being played in this case. “This victim came from a tough family, had a criminal record, it must have been self-defense.” The case went to trial, emotions were high, he was convicted of manslaughter, and the case is on appeal. But it actually brought up issues of “What can the defendant do in attacking the victim?” And you know who’s going to suffer from that kind of rulings. It’s going to be poor people. It’s going to be minorities. It’s going to be African-Americans. It’s going to be Hispanics. Because we all have these unconscious prejudices. So as we look at these issues of social justice, and race, and media coverage of this, it’s not only to look at “Does not only the defendant get a fair trial?”, but it’s also equally important to look at “Does the victim get a fair trial?” And that’s going to depend on you guys, the next generation, to make sure that we do it fairly for both sides. Thank you.
1. “I did invite the prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case twice (his emphasis!), and both times they refused. The second time they adamantly (his emphasis!) refused to come and be on the panel with Tom Mesereau.” This is typical of Sneddon! I don’t believe he has spoken at a single seminar since his witch-hunt of MJ ended in 2005! Being the fair person that he is, Prof. Ogletree wanted to have the prosecution there to present their side of the story, but they were all too cowardly to show up. And noticed how he emphasized that he asked them TWICE, and the second time they ADAMANTLY refused! And also noticed how he says “they”, implying that he asked multiple people on the prosecution team, and not just Sneddon. Do you think they would have rejected this offer if they had convicted MJ? I don’t think so!
2. “I was totally hooked on Court TV. That was Court TV in the “good old days”, before all the talking heads came in, and you got mostly uncensored, real trial testimony, and it was fascinating to watch.” Is anyone surprised at this comment? This is an excellent assessment of what Court TV devolved to by the time the MJ trial started. It went from having a primary goal of educating their viewers to entertaining their viewers! Most of their legal analysts were fervently pro-prosecution (such as Nancy Grace, Sunny Hostin, Lisa Bloom, Catherine Crier, and many others), and when they hired tabloid trash peddler Diane Dimond, they lost all credibility!
Here is Court TV’s coverage of MJ’s acquittal! Mesereau has this posted on his YouTube channel.
From Part 57 of the “What Did Happen To Michael Jackson?” Youtube series, @ 8:15 Matt Taibbi describes how he heard another reporter “who is invested in the result of this story” claim that Debbie Rowe was lying, and that she was just as crazy as Janet Arvizo! Gee, I wonder what station she worked for?
In fact, make sure you watch from the beginning because you’ll get see both Diane Dimond and Gloria Allred spinning like a carousel! (By the way, the word “spin” in this instance means “to give the public biased information; to present information in a way meant to influence public opinion”.)
In this video, beginning @ 5:45, you’ll see Dan Ambrams show some common sense and start to criticize Court TV’s anchors Nancy Grace, Lisa Bloom (daughter of Gloria Allred), and Kimberly Guilfoyle, just before he is cut off by Court TV’s Savannah Guthrie, who goes on to say that all reporters, including those at Court TV, “hear what they want to hear”.
Here is a video of Mesereau attacking the media. He refers to Court TV as the “bottom feeders” of the media! The term “bottom feeder” is described as “an opportunist who profits from the misfortunes of others”.
3. “And you know who’s going to suffer from that kind of rulings. It’s going to be poor people. It’s going to be minorities. It’s going to be African-Americans. It’s going to be Hispanics. Because we all have these unconscious prejudices.” This is an unfortunate fact here in America. Due to the racial injustices that were inflicted on Native Americans, African Americans, and other immigrants, there is a long history of racial animosity that dates back generations. Although we have made tremendous progress – for example, electing an African American president – we still have a long way to go, and many racial prejudcies are underground and more subtle than they used to be. Minorities still get a rough shake in the legal system today, and it is directly correlated to the fact that they tend to earn substantially less than their white counterparts, thus having to rely on lesser quality lawyers (and oftentimes the public defender, who is guaranteed by the Constitution!). Minorities are routinely found guilty on a higher basis than whites, and are often sentenced to longer terms for the same crime. (The pro bono work that Mesereau does each year in the South is a testament to this.) The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice hosts several seminars each year that deal with race and justice, and finds ways to better educate lawyers and law students about important factors that affect the way that minorities and poor people are treated by the justice system.